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$1.5 million in 8 hours: Tennessee tech founder makes historic raise on International Women's Day
All 11 of the investors who signed checks are based in Tennessee.
There’s a beautiful pattern in the Wright family. It’s one of those rare patterns that’s always in style and becomes more popular with each season. It’s a pattern worn best by women. No, it’s not polka-dots or stripes or gingham or chevron. It’s called: breaking barriers.
59-year-old Tammy Wright made history in 2000 becoming the first female deputy of the Macon County Sheriff's department, which is located in one of the most rural and conservative counties in Tennessee. Now, twenty-three years later, her daughter, Deanna Meador is following her feminist footsteps and disrupting one of the most male dominated industries — tech.
Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, Meador raised $1.5 million for her fashion technology startup, Couture Technologies — marking the largest seed round raised by a female tech founder in 8 hours. All 11 of the investors who signed checks are based in Tennessee.
The historic raise comes as the female founder and CEO sets out to scale her company, which aims to reduce returns in the apparel industry. Meador says Couture will use the funds to add 15 to its 26-person team and supercharge sales and marketing efforts.
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She co-founded the company in 2019 with veteran technologist Marcellino Rodriguez-Cancio. The pair met two years earlier while working on an innovation project for a large fast fashion company who was grappling with returns.
“At that time (2017), e-commerce only accounted for about 20% of apparel brands’ revenue” Meador explains. “High return rates — caused by issues with sizing and fit — made them hesitant to expand their ecommerce presence.”
Then, the pandemic hit, forcing the apparel industry’s hand, and in 2020, 60% of apparel brands’ revenue were generated from online sales. The shopping shift increased the urgency to solve the age-old problem of returns.
According to Narvar Inc., which processes retail returns, the number of e-commerce packages returned in 2020 rose 70% from 2019. One of the top reasons for the spike was improper fit.
“We knew that if brands were not only to survive, but thrive something had to change,” says Meador. “Returns cost businesses roughly 66% of the retail price.”
These high costs have led many items to the landfill, as its often more cost effective for companies to trash items, rather than return them into the supply chain. In fact, returned inventory creates 9.6 billion pounds of landfill each year, emitting more than 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to Optoro.
Today, 30% of all apparel items purchased online are returned, three times the rate of physical stores.
The best way to mitigate returns of course, is to find ways to limit returns before they happen. In the apparel industry, that means finding the right fit.
“Consumers are looking to recapture some of the magic that happens when you walk into a store and can try things on,” says Danny Pippin, COO of Couture Technologies.
With Couture’s technology, customers can “try on” clothing in a virtual environment.
How it works
“Once Couture starts working with an apparel brand or uniform provider, we gather information about the brand’s garments and build a 3-D version of the garments and what we call a Fitmap,” explains Meador. “With just a few lines of code, our technology is integrated into the brand’s website, or for workwear, we create a custom dashboard for a customer.”
Then, customers or employees build an avatar and virtually try on clothing or get fitted for a uniform. For uniform fittings, employees can get fitted at home with their smartphone or laptop or get fitted using Couture’s in-person FitStation.
Before Couture, large uniform suppliers organized massive, all-day, in-person fitting events at corporate companies — think Amazon, Fedex, Walmart.
Typically, 4 to 5 representatives from the supplier company measured individuals, one-by-one and hastily scribbled down their dimensions on sheets of paper. Those measurements would then need to be manually keyed into a computer back at the suppliers office.
“There were instances where those papers were lost or the person entering the data couldn’t read the writing,” explains Meador. “If measurements were lost, suppliers had no choice but to organize another fitting event and absorb the extra cost.”
Nashville-based Workwear Outfitters, the leading manufacturer of workwear brands, began leveraging Couture’s technology last year. With Workfitter — Workwear Outfitters’ custom virtual sizing tool built in partnership and powered by Couture — the company was able to reduce the time it takes to get fitted for a uniform from 20 minutes to just 2 minutes, which slashes costs by up to 90%.
The impact Couture’s technology can make is impressive, but it wasn’t the technology that had investors opening their wallets yesterday. It was Meador herself.
“Six years ago, Deanna mentioned she might start a business,” says Tracey Figurelli, a Director at Andra Partners and angel investor in Couture. “She didn’t say what the business was or when she was going to do it. I didn’t care what it was, but I wanted in. I believed in Deanna.”
“People think investors invest in technology or products — and to an extent we do — but what we really invest in are people,” says Frank Grant, CEO of Grant Ventures and a two-time investor in Couture.
No one is surprised by the Sumner County woman’s fundraising success. Not investors, her friends or her trailblazing mother.
“Deanna is humble —she always has been,” says her mother. “But I’ve always known she was going to do big things. She’ll outwork, outthink anyone. She nor I set out to make history or be feminists. We just don’t like being told no.”